Something the FDA and ACSH agree on: Menthol doesn t make cigarettes more harmful

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The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) believes mentholated cigarettes do not pose a greater health threat than unflavored cigarettes. The U.S. Draft Report on mentholated cigarettes, released yesterday, echoes very closely ACSH’s own menthol paper, released one year ago, which ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross presented to TPSAC last year. The Committee’s Draft Report was produced as directed by a 2009 law banning cigarette flavorings, such as clove and strawberry, in order to determine whether menthol should be included among the list of forbidden additives.

While the draft findings do not imply that mentholated cigarettes are any safer than cigarettes without flavoring, they do indicate that the addition of menthol may lower smokers’ ability to quit and may also be more appealing to new or younger smokers. The FDA does not have to follow the recommendation of the advisory panel, which is expected on March 23rd, in arriving at its final decision on whether or not to ban mentholated cigarettes.

According to the report, approximately 14 million American smokers spend about $25 billion on mentholated cigarettes each year and three-quarters of African-Americans prefer them. These statistics show that the issue of banning menthol is fraught with controversy, says Dr. Ross. “The idea of a ban is perceived by many African-Americans as being either racially discriminatory, or racially targeted, and these cigarettes make up a huge market. You can’t just ban a product with such a huge economic impact and expect the problem to go away. We already have a black market in cigarettes being driven by smugglers looking to avoid the heavy taxes. Banning mentholated cigarettes will make this exponentially worse while the public health benefit will amount to almost nothing. Most mentholated cigarette smokers will not quit just because the product is banned. They’ll simply purchase them from illicit sources.”